Le’Veon Bell missed the entire 2018/19 NFL season because he was holding out for more money. The running back didn’t get it from the Pittsburgh Steelers, but signed a four-year, $52.5 million ($25 million guaranteed) contract with the New York Jets.
Ahead of the 2019/20 season, two more high-profile running backs sat on the sidelines during training camp as they waited for their respective teams to see (and reward) their value on and off the field.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Ezekiel Elliott to a six-year, $90 million ($50 million guaranteed) extension on September 4, making him the highest-paid running back in the NFL. Melvin Gordon continues his holdout as the Los Angeles Chargers begin their season against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
While former Chargers running back and NFL Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson believes these players deserve their respective paydays, Tomlinson doesn’t necessarily agree with the way they’re paid out and structured.
“I think it’s unfortunate because it’s one thing to say you’re worth something and it’s another thing to negotiate what you’re worth—that’s two different things,” Tomlinson said at an NFL 100th season kickoff event in New York City. “I think contracts for running backs should be shorter. I think it’s insane and preposterous to have a running back sign a four or five-year contract.
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have a running back sign a contract longer than three years just because of the wear and tear. If a running back does fall off at a certain age, at least you can get out from that contract.”
While Bell and Elliott got their paydays, Gordon is still waiting for his, and he might have to wait a while. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said on September 1 that when and if Gordon reports, he’ll play under his current contract and the team will “revisit it after the season.”
Los Angeles, which advanced to the AFC Divisional Round last season with the help of Gordon’s 1,375 total yards and 14 TDs, is prepared to play without the dual threat playmaker this season. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are poised to share time in the backfield behind veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who is still in search of his first Super Bowl championship.
Rivers, 37, was selected No. 4 overall in the 2004 NFL Draft by the New York Giants but was immediately swapped for No. 1 overall pick Eli Manning. Manning won two Super Bowl titles in New York (Super Bowl XLII and XLVI), and Ben Roethlisberger, the No. 11 pick in that class, has a pair of rings in Pittsburgh (Super Bowl XL and XLIII).
Tomlinson believes Rivers’ legacy in the NFL and with the Chargers’ franchise isn’t diminished despite that elusive accolade.
“I don’t think it’s a knock at all,” Tomlinson said. “You have to be fortunate at times to be in the right position to make those runs. I think when he was in the right position there were a few decisions made by the general manager that just hurt his legacy like getting rid of guys in their prime like Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles that would have done wonders for Philip Rivers.
“When you do stuff like that, to me, that’s not Philip’s fault. He did what he had to do—he still played at a high level. I think it’s unfortunate there were decisions made by the organization that didn’t help him.”
As for the 2019/20 season, Tomlinson believes the Chargers have the pieces in place to make another playoff run, while overcoming the loss of All-Pro safety Derwin James for 3-4 months (foot surgery) and with Gordon’s contract situation still up in the air.
“I think this team is built in the right way and they have the depth now to really compete,” Tomlinson said. “Obviously it starts with No. 17 (Rivers); anytime you have a quarterback like him you’re going to be able to compete.
“You’re not going to replace (James) and Gordon isn’t playing, but I think there are guys to make up for those losses. I think the team will make another run.”